2,500 Coke workers in Colombia ordered to resign or be dismissed
Coca-Cola's main bottler in Latin America, Coca-Cola FEMSA, recently announced plans to close nine bottling plants in Colombia, which could leave 2,500 workers without jobs. The managers halted production at those plants and are pressuring workers to resign from their contracts in exchange for a lump-sum payment-- "voluntary retirement." The workers have been told that if they don't "resign," they will be dismissed.
Coca-Cola's main bottler in Latin America, Coca-Cola FEMSA, recently announced plans to close nine bottling plants in Colombia, which could leave 2,500 workers without jobs. The managers halted production at those plants and are pressuring workers to resign from their contracts in exchange for a lump-sum payment-- "voluntary retirement." The workers have been told that if they don't "resign," they will be dismissed. Due to the high unemployment in Colombia, many of the employees fear the loss of their jobs will keep them from being able to support their families when the severance offered by FEMSA runs out. The production of these plants will be shifted to 'super bottling plants' in other cities in Colombia.
The Coca-Cola workers' union, SINALTRAINAL, has established "centers of resistance" in front of the plants that are being shut down. Workers are refusing to resign, and union leaders are calling on activists and supporters in the United States to pressure Coke in order to stop these closures.
Violence against the union has increased during the past month. On August 22, paramilitary gunmen attempted to kill Juan Carlos Galvis, vice president of the union in Barrancabermeja. Juan Carlos' bodyguards were forced to fire back but, fortunately, no one was hurt. On September 10, the 15-year-old son of union leader Limberto Carranza was kidnapped and tortured in Barranquilla by four men who repeatedly questioned him about his father's location.
Since 1990, paramilitary groups in Colombia have murdered seven Coke union leaders. None of these deaths have resulted in any prosecution for those responsible by the Colombian legal system - which is notorious for its failure to prosecute human rights violators. As a result, the Colombian union, the United Steelworkers of America, and the International Labor Rights Fund, filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola in 2001. In addition, student groups, activists, unionists, and people of faith from throughout the world are boycotting Coca-Cola products in order to pressure the corporation to take action in Colombia.
Coca-Cola has denied any link between itself, its bottlers, and the paramilitary attacks. Coke has also refused the requests of SINALTRAINAL to publicly denounce anti-union violence in Colombia, to designate a human rights ombudsperson at the Colombian plants, to investigate the ties between bottling plant managers and the paramilitaries, and to provide compensation to the victims.
Throughout the 1990's, Coke bottling plants in Colombia laid off more than 10,000 workers in a drive to reduce labor costs. Previously, the majority of workers at the plants had long-term contracts that provided benefits and job security. Now, 84 percent of the workers are temporary employees or contractors - many of whom earn the minimum wage of 119 US dollars per month and have no benefits.
This lay off of up to 2,500 workers would be the greatest of its kind. According to Coke, for every employee it has in Colombia, ten additional jobs are created, which means that nearly 25,000 people stand to lose their livelihood.
In Barrancabermeja, the company attempted to buy-off William Mendoza, the president of the local union, hoping that if William would resign, the rest of the employees would do the same. William, who makes just 270 US dollars a month, turned down an offer of $45,000. Instead, William and the vast majority of the workers are continuing to resist, and they're calling for people around world to contact Coca-Cola and urge the company to keep the plants open in Colombia and stop the violence against the workers.
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